Here we go, from Russia with love to campaign finance with love.
Why was Michael Cohen investigated? Because the “Steele dossier” had him making secret trips to meet with Russians that never happened, so his business dealings got a thorough scrubbing and, in the process, he fell into the special counsel’s Manafort bin — the bin reserved for squeezing until the juice comes out. And now we are back to 1998 all over again, with presidents and presidential candidates covering up their alleged marital misdeeds and prosecutors trying to turn legal acts into illegal ones by inventing new crimes.
The plot to get President Trump out of office thickens, as Cohen obviously was his own mini-crime syndicate and decided that his betrayals of Trump meant he would be better served turning on his old boss to cut the best deal with prosecutors he could rather than holding out and getting the full Manafort treatment. That was clear the minute he hired attorney Lanny Davis, who doesn’t try cases and did past work for Hillary Clinton. Cohen had recorded his client, trying to entrap him, sold information about Trump (while acting as his lawyer) to corporations for millions of dollars, and didn’t pay taxes on millions.
The sweetener for the prosecutors, of course, was getting Cohen to plead guilty to campaign violations that were not campaign violations. Money paid to people who come out of the woodwork and shake down people under threat of revealing bad sexual stories are not legitimate campaign expenditures. They are personal expenditures. That is true for both candidates we like and candidates we don’t. Just imagine if candidates used campaign funds instead of their own money to pay folks like Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about affairs; they would get indicted for misuse of campaign funds for personal purposes and for tax evasion.
There appear to be two payments involved in this unusual plea — Cohen pleaded guilty to a campaign violation for having “coordinated” the American Media Inc. payment to Karen McDougal for her story, not for actually making the payment. So he is pleading guilty over a corporate contribution he did not make.
Think about this for a minute: Suppose ABC had paid Stormy Daniel for her story in coordination with Michael Avenatti or maybe even the Democratic National Committee’s law firm on the eve of the election; by this reasoning, if the purpose of this money paid, just before the election, would be to hurt Trump and help Clinton win, this payment would be a corporate political contribution. If using it not to get Trump would be a corporate contribution, then using it to get Trump also has to be a corporate contribution. That’s why neither are corporate contributions and this is a bogus approach to federal election law. (Note that none of the donors in the 2012 John Edwards case faced any legal issues and the Federal Election Commission (FEC) ruled their payments were not campaign contributions that had to be reported — facts that prosecutors tried to suppress at trial.)
Now, when it comes to Stormy Daniels, Cohen made a payment a few days before the election that Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani says was reimbursed. First, given that this payment was on Oct. 27, it would never have been reported before the election campaign and so, for all intents and purposes, was immaterial as it relates to any effect on the campaign. What’s clear in this plea deal is that, in exchange for overall leniency on his massive tax evasion, Cohen is pleading guilty to these other charges as an attempt to give prosecutors what they want — a Trump connection.
The usual procedures here would be for the FEC to investigate complaints and sort through these murky laws to determine if these kinds of payments are personal in nature or more properly classified as campaign expenditures. And, on the Daniels’ payment that was made and reimbursed by Trump, it is again a question of whether that was made for personal reasons (especially since they have been trying since 2011 to obtain agreement). Just because it would be helpful to the campaign does not convert it to a campaign expenditure. Think of a candidate with bad teeth who had dental work done to look better for the campaign; his campaign still could not pay for it because it’s a personal expenditure.
Contrast what is going on here with the treatment of the millions of dollars paid to a Democratic law firm which, in turn, paid out money to political research firm Fusion GPS and British ex-spy Christopher Steele without listing them on any campaign expenditure form — despite crystal-clear laws and regulations that the ultimate beneficiaries of the funds must be listed. This rule was even tightened recently. There is no question that hiring spies to do oppo research in Russia is a campaign expenditure, and yet, no prosecutorial raids have been sprung on the law firm, Fusion GPS or Steele. Reason: It does not “get” Trump.
So, Trump spends $130,000 to keep the lid on a personal story and the full weight of state prosecutors comes down on his lawyer, tossing attorney-client privilege to the wind. Democrats spend potentially millions on secret oppo research and no serious criminal investigation occurs.
Remember that the feds tried a similar strategy against Democrat John Edwards in the 2012 case and it failed. As Gregory Craig, a lawyer who worked both for President Clinton and John Edwards, said: “The government’s theory is wrong on the facts and wrong on the law. It is novel and untested. There is no civil or criminal precedent for such a prosecution.” Hey, tried it there anyway and it failed.
And let’s not forget that President Clinton was entrapped into lying about his affairs and, although impeached, was acquitted by the Senate. The lesson was clear: We are not going to remove presidents for lying about who they had affairs with, nor even convict politicians on campaign-finance violations for these personal payments.
With Cohen pleading guilty, there will be no test of soundness of the prosecution theories here, and it is yet another example of the double standards of justice of one investigation that gave Clinton aides and principals every benefit of the doubt and another investigation that targeted Trump people until they found unrelated crimes to use as leverage. Prosecutors thought nothing of using the Logan Act against former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and, now, obscure and unsettled elements of campaign finance law against Trump lawyer Cohen to manufacture crimes in what is a naked attempt to take Trump down and defeat democracy.
Donald Trump should do a better job of picking aides who pay their taxes — but he’s not responsible for their financial problems and crimes. These investigations, essentially based on an opposition-funded dossier, were never anything other than an attempt to push into a corner as many Trump aides and family members as possible and shake them down until they could get close enough to Trump to try to take him down. That’s why so many of his aides, lawyers, and actions in the campaign and in the White House have undergone hour-by-hour scrutiny to find anything that could be colored into a crime, leaving far behind the original Russia-collusion theory as the fake pretext it was. Paying for nondisclosure agreements for perfectly legal activities is not a crime, not a campaign contribution as commonly understood or ruled upon by the FEC — and squeezing guilty pleas out of vulnerable witnesses does not change those facts.